Quick & Quirky Questions with Jane Campbell

Jane Campbell grew up in Zambia and Cape Town and read English at Oxford. She has worked as a Group Analyst, teaching and training and lecturing internationally, for nearly forty years. She lives in Bermuda and Oxford, England. She published her debut short story collection, Cat Brushing, at the age of 80. 

Tell us 4 important facts about yourself: 

  1. I never expected to live very long so have never really made provision for the future. I trace this expectation to being born during WWII.
  2. I am a pluviophile. The sound of rain on leaves or on the windowpane is the most soothing sound I know. 
  3. Between the ages of six and ten, I lived in a township built around a copper mine in Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia. The sight of the mine shaft, the big wheel turning and the giant slag heap near our house with the molten slurry pouring down it in the evening is a significant memory.
  4. I cannot file things because I cannot categorise. Even this list: important to whom? I ask myself.

What is your favourite age that you’ve been so far in life, and why?

I shall go out on a limb with this question and say when I was three/four years old. I regard it as the crucible of my life. I had had several happy years living with my mother and her grandmother and then, when I was three, my father returned from his POW camp in Austria. I have a photograph of that time: my parents together in the garden of my great-grandmother’s house, me there with them clutching a black cat, looking out with an expression of defiant possessiveness, as I see it: ‘This is mine, back off, world.’ Of course, everything soon changed.

Who is your favourite fictional character or famous person over 60?

Marian Leatherby is my current icon. At ninety-two years old she leads a revolution in the care home she is consigned to in Leonora Carrington’s surreal novel The Hearing Trumpet. Every woman should read this book in case they live for a long time.

You are alone in your house (no pets). You have three minutes to get out before the house collapses and burns to the ground. What one possession would you grab and take with you?

This year it must be my laptop which has all my current writing in it although I might grasp a notebook or two from the past as well. 

What’s your favourite creative pastime?

I like gentle walking, but I am happiest just sitting looking out of the window, daydreaming. Maybe some piano music on my sound system, Liszt quite likely, and, of course, preferably with raindrops as well. I will be pushing ideas around in my head.

Tell us something about yourself that’s surprising or unexpected.

All my life, ever since I learned to drive as a teenager in my father’s big Hudson Rambler in Africa, I have loved big, expensive cars with powerful engines and spacious roads to drive them on, probably too fast.

Jane’s debut collection, Cat Brushing, is the Autumn Voices flash theme prize for August. Enter the flash prize to be in with a chance of winning a gorgeous new hardback copy: 

I was told of an older woman who was asked by her granddaughter, ‘Granny, when was the happiest time of your life?’

‘I don’t know,’ she replied, ‘I may not have had it yet.’

The stories found in this collection explore the sensual worlds of thirteen older women, reframing their intellectual and emotional lives in intimate vignettes that will shock and comfort in equal measure. Susan finds she is attracted to her beautiful young carer, Miffy, and embarks on an intense emotional relationship with her. Nell discovers a cut on her leg, which leads her on to reflections on her past and a young girl in distress she encountered on her honeymoon.

Linda perversely seeks out her former lover, Malik, on the banks of the Victoria Falls, despite having left him years ago to return to her settled marriage to Bill. Daisy, who, by a curious stroke of fate, finds herself at the funeral of her former husband, Tim, relives their early life together, his betrayal of her and the anguish of that time. The narrator of ‘Lockdown Fantasm’ enjoys the cool fingers of her government authorised Fantasm on week one hundred and ninety-three of the long lockdown. In ‘Schopenhauer and I’, Martha, mourning her little dog whom she believes has been killed by the care home staff, works out how to manage a robot designed to monitor her behaviour, and to get her revenge. The narrator of ‘Cat Brushing’ communes with her elegant, soft Siamese cat, reflecting on the sexual pleasures of her past.


In spiky, elegant prose, Jane Campbell ignites the voices of women who are fighting to live on their own terms, energised by their desires and passions, freedoms, integrity and sense of self. Cat Brushing confronts the tragic misconceptions of aging and presents a vivid and transgressive peek into older women’s lives.

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